Top 10 Suddenly Frugal Posts for 2011: Number 1

December 30, 2011

For the third year in a row, my post from way back in 2009 on making your own laundry detergent has come out on top again. I noticed this year that someone over on liked the post and the ingredients I was using–and was sending a ton of traffic to my blog. (Mystery Pinterest person, thank you so much.) In case you’re not aware of Pinterest, it seems to be an Etsy-like site for DIYers.

Drum roll please…..the #1 post for the 2011 Best of Suddenly Frugal is….

4 Easy Steps for DIY Laundry Detergent

February 19, 2009


dsc00023I always try to do inventory of the house before I go grocery shopping. In the past when I haven’t done this, I’ll come home with, say, two bottles of maple syrup, only to discover I already had two bottles in the pantry.

The same is true with checking other household goods. That’s why I’m glad I checked in the laundry room before heading out to the store earlier this week to go food shopping. I picked up the bottle of liquid laundry detergent and gave it a shake–there was barely anything in it. OK, I thought, now is the perfect time to finally experiment with making your own laundry detergent.

I’d read about this practice of DIY laundry detergent on a number of blogs and websites, including Frugal Dad, who said that homemade laundry detergent wasn’t for him. I’d seen recipes for liquid detergent (some involvedboiling your DIY laundry detergent on the stove; no thanks) and recipes for dry detergent.

Since the dry detergent seemed to be the easiest to make, I figured I’d give it a go. So that night I went shopping, I added the three ingredients I would need to make my own laundry detergent to my shopping list:

  1. Arm and Hammer Washing Soda
  2. 20 Mule Team Borax
  3. Bar of Fels-Naptha Soap

Thankfully, I was able to find all three items at my local supermarket in the laundry aisle.

At first I’d looked for the washing soda in the bakery aisle, because I figured baking soda? washing soda? Must be the same thing. But it’s not.

I’m already a huge fan of Borax for its stain-removing abilities so I knew where to find with the commercial laundry detergents.

And right above the Borax were the bars of Fels-Naptha Soap. My take on Fels-Naptha stuff is that it is like an old-school stain-removal stick except it comes in bar form.

Once I got the stuff home, making the laundry detergent was pretty easy. My plan was to store everything in a reusable Rubbermaid 10-cup container with a lid. So as I went through the steps below, I just dumped the ingredients (shown below) right into this tub.


  1. 2 parts washing soda (I did this quite literally and started with two cups of washing soda)
  2. 2 parts Borax (again, the literal approach with two cups)
  3. 1 part grated or chopped Fels-Naptha soap (I’d read that some people put the soap in a food processor to get it into tiny bits; I just got out my cheese grater and put it to work)
  4. Mix all ingredients (I put the top on the container and gave it a couple of shakes. I could have stirred it with a spoon)
  5. Do laundry (I dropped a 1/4 cup measuring spoon into the container for doling out the detergent. Most of the recipes I’d read recommended using anything from 3 tablespoons to 4 tablespoons of detergent in the wash. I figured why not just measure out the 1/4 cup–which equals 4 tatablespoons–and be done with it)

It took me five minutes only to put this all together. Really, only five minutes. Grating the soap is what took the longest.

I have a top loading washing machine (came with the house), so I’ve gotten in the habit of pouring/dumping my laundry detergent in first and letting the tub fill before adding the clothes. Waiting like this allows the detergent to dissolve. In the past I could usually tell that the dissolving was occurring because I could see bubbles. With DIY laundry detergent? Not so much. Actually, not at all. And that had me worried.

But I dumped in my first load of clothes, let it run its course and came back when I heard the washing machine turn off.

Everything looked clean. And everything smelled clean. I figured, OK, this might just work. And I tossed the wet clothes in the dryer for five minutes to get out the excess water (like I always do), and then started hanging up the items one by one to dry.

I started a second load, then a third and now here I am, four days later, and you know what I’ve discovered? This stuff works.

The only problem is that we, as Americans, have been brainwashed–no brainwashed is too strong a term but it’s a good pun since I’m talking about laundry right–or led to believe that the more bubbles in a cleaning product, the better.


And when you’re using DIY laundry detergent, you just don’t have the bubbles. And you need to get over that.

Besides, here’s the upside to my DIY laundry detergent experiment:

  1. I made my own laundry detergent. (How cool is it to be able to say that?)
  2. I spent about $6 in the process, and I imagine that this laundry detergent is going to last me a long, long time–much longer than $6 spent on a commercial brand would.

The one downside to my DIY dry detergent? Since I’m still scarred by those “ring around the collar” Wisk commercials from the 1970s, I’m pretty anal about trying to get those rings out of my husband’s work shirts. In the past I would pour the liquid detergent on the “ring” and then sprinkle some Borax on it. Usually just water and Borax didn’t do the trick, which is why I added the liquid detergent to the mix. So when Bill’s shirts came out of the laundry yesterday–and hadn’t been pre-treated–the ring was still there. I considered investing in a small bottle of liquid Tide, just to keep on hand.

But then I thought, wait! Maybe I should try rubbing the Fels-Naptha soap on those rings.

With the next load, I’ll have to give that a try. And I’ll let you know how that goes.

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9 Responses to Top 10 Suddenly Frugal Posts for 2011: Number 1

  1. Jen on December 31, 2011 at 9:30 am

    OK, I really would like to try this, but I have to tell you that we have a well and whenever I don’t use Tide, (I’ve tried switching) our whites get so gray and dingy looking. And, I used a dry detergent once that people flipped about, but our clothes seemed “off”. I periodically do a “sanitary” wash (a cycle on my hE washer) with bleach and it helps the whites, but I have never been very impressed with other detergents. How do you feel overall about the detergent you make? Do the clothes hold up well? I would love to get rid of my Tide bill and your recipe seems quick and easy to make. THank you!

    • Leah Ingram on December 31, 2011 at 11:20 am

      To be honest I’ve found that I have to use a bleach wash from time to time to keep things looking bright. Also, when it comes to my daughters really stinky athletic clothing, I do have to splurge and get the Tide with Febreze and wash those separately. However, I only buy it when it is on sale and I have a coupon. In the off season, however, this is my go-to detergent.

  2. Lisa on December 30, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    How is this detergent for people with sensitive skin?

    • Leah Ingram on December 31, 2011 at 11:15 am

      Both my daughter and I have sensitive skin, and I will tell you that we have had no problems with it.

  3. Mary on December 30, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Cool! I’m going to give it a try.

  4. Mary on December 30, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Can the homemade detergent be used in a high efficiency washing machine?

    • Leah Ingram on December 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm

      Yes! Because it is practically sudsless and that’s the kind you need in those washers!

  5. Carolyn on December 30, 2011 at 12:56 am

    So? How did it go?

    Did the Fels Naptha get out the ring around the collar?

    • Leah Ingram on December 30, 2011 at 8:42 am

      It did OK. Adding Borax and, gulp, some liquid laundry detergent I still had on hand helped more!

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